All is set for the take-off of the much-anticipated progressively free senior high school (SHS) education policy from the next academic year, as President John Dramani Mahama launched it at Ekumfi Otuam in the Central Region Thursday.
He also used the ceremony to inaugurate the first of the Community Day SHSs, named after the late President John Evans Atta Mils who hailed from Otuam.
The free education policy is starting with day students and for the first term, 320,488 students will be covered. They are made up of 111,212 first-year, 109,731 second-year and 99,753 third-year students.
To demonstrate its resolve to successfully kick-start the programme, the government has released GHc12.2 million to the Ministry of Education to pay for first term fees.
Items covered include examination, library, entertainment, Students Representative Council (SRC) dues, science development, science and mathematics quiz, sports, culture, ICT and co-curricular.
Both the free SHS policy and the Community Day SHS were key electoral promises the President made to the people of Ghana during the 2012 electioneering.
While the progressive free SHS is a constitutional provision which the President promised to begin implementing when he won the election, the community SHS is a wholly government initiative.
The John Atta Mils SHS is one of the 200 community day SHSs which the government promised to construct in under-served rural communities across the country.
Addressing a large gathering of the chiefs and people for the double programme at Ekumfi Otuam, the President said everything was being done to ensure that the two policies reaped the maximum results.
He mentioned that although the free SHS was beginning with day students, the road map for implementation would be religiously followed to cover boarding students.
“We will eventually get to a stage where every SHS student will have the opportunity to go to school free,” he said.
Recognising the fact that teachers were central to any effective educational policy, he said the Ministry of Education had received funds to recruit 9,300 teachers to start the free SHS programme.
While emphasising that the intervention would bring significant relief to parents, Mr Mahama said the policy did not completely take away the responsibilities of parents to their children.
Turning to the Community SHS, President Mahama described the facilities in the school at Otuam and others to be completed subsequently as first class.
The Otuam project, which is an E-shaped three-storey building, has 24 classrooms, four science and one ICT laboratories, two libraries, eight offices for departmental heads, an Internet learning area, a headmaster’s office and a staff common room.
President Mahama said 123 of the community day SHSs were at various stages of construction, adding that the number, though not yet up to the 200 promised, was already a “pass mark”.
He told the gathering that the government was making progress in enrolment and gave statistics to back his assertion.
For instance, he said, JHS enrolment increased from 80,000 in 2001 to 1.6 million in 2015.
The Minister of Education, Prof. Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, said the government had demonstrated extraordinary commitment to expand access to education.
She told parents who had the capacity to finance their children’s education to continue to do so, instead of putting all hopes on the government.
She pointed out that for a student to be eligible to benefit from the free education policy, he or she should not be covered by any other scholarship scheme.
Traditional leaders grateful
Speaking on behalf on the traditional authorities, the acting President of the Otuam Traditional Council, Nana Idan, commended the government for the opening of the school in the community.